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Peter A. Stratton is a Senior VP and Director of SWA’s Accessibility Compliance and Consulting Group. He directs accessibility services provided to private and public clients nationwide throughout all phases of design through construction close out; litigation consulting for attorneys; and training for the industry at large. He is an adjunct instructor at New York University and the Pratt Institute, New York, NY.

Posts by Peter Stratton

Top 10 Violations of Accessibility Requirements Post Occupancy Caused by Untrained O&M Staff

Our accessibility consultants work with design and construction teams to ensure that facilities are compliant with the architectural accessibility requirements of applicable laws and codes. But once the building is operational, and management and maintenance is turned over to an entity not involved in the design and construction process, unintentional violations of accessibility requirements often crop up post occupancy.

It’s not uncommon for litigation to result from observations of violations made by testers that are caused by unknowing operations and maintenance staff.

Once a facility is complaint with accessible design and construction requirements, it must remain so for its life, so it’s important for everyone to understand how to maintain compliance.

Here are some of the more common violations of accessibility requirements that occur post occupancy: (more…)

5 Misconceptions About Fair Housing Act (FHA) Design and Construction Compliance

“If I comply with the building code, then I comply with the Fair Housing Act.” “Everything is adaptable, so it doesn’t need to work on day one, right?” Accessibility consultants have heard all types of misconceptions about the Fair Housing Act (FHA). If followed, these assumptions can result in noncompliance with the design and construction requirements of the FHA.

Here are five of the most common misconceptions about the FHA, explained.

This blog post was originally published on September 30, 2019. It has been reviewed and updated to reflect the current design and construction requirements of the FHA.

Building Code

Fair Housing Act Design Manual cover.

Misconception #1: Following the accessibility requirements of the building code will satisfy the design and construction requirements of the FHA.

Not true. Following the accessibility requirements of the building code may not always satisfy the design and construction requirements of the FHA.

Building codes and federal laws are mutually exclusive; a building department or building official is responsible for ensuring compliance with the code—not the law. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is responsible for enforcement of the FHA—not building codes. Meeting the requirements of one may not always satisfy the requirements of the other.

There is only one code, i.e., the International Building Code (IBC), that is a HUD-approved ”safe harbor” for compliance with the design and construction requirements of the FHA. Editions of the code after 2018 are not yet approved by HUD as meeting the requirements of the FHA. (more…)

Top 10 Accessible Design Oversights: Hotels

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed more than 30 years ago, but architects and designers still struggle with misconceptions about complying with the accessible design and construction requirements included in the ADA.

Our accessibility team works on a wide variety of projects across the country to ensure that buildings are designed to comply with the ADA (and other regulatory and building code requirements). Each project comes with its own unique set of challenges, and it is common for even our most experienced accessibility consultants to encounter a design problem we have never seen before.

However, there are design issues that we see again and again and again; these common accessibility oversights are not difficult to avoid if they’re accounted for early enough in the design process.

In this post, we explain how to avoid the top 10 accessible design mistakes that our consultants find in…hotels.

This blog post was originally published on August 08, 2019. It was updated on October 20, 2022 to ensure that the guidance and design requirements provided are up to date. (more…)

Trends in Healthcare: Accessible Controls for Window Treatments

Trends in Healthcare” is a recurring series that focuses on exciting new designs and technologies we’re seeing in healthcare projects and provides best practices on how to ensure that these latest trends are accessible to persons with disabilities. We build on the wealth of knowledge we gain from working with healthcare design teams, construction crews, and practitioners to provide practical solutions for achieving accessible healthcare environments.


Access to exterior views and natural light can influence outcomes in healthcare settings. Therefore, it is vital that window treatments available for use by patients and visitors are easily operable and accessible to people with disabilities.

As discussed in our last Trends in Healthcare post, visual access to nature is known to promote healing and improve mental and physical wellbeing. Access to natural light through windows in hospital lounges and sleeping rooms has also been linked to improved patient outcomes, including reduced anxiety, shorter length of stay, improved sleep, and lessened pain. (more…)

Accessibility Tech Notes: Emergency Eyewash Stations

Work equipment is exempt under Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but it is important to find opportunities to make emergency equipment accessible to people with disabilities wherever possible. An eyewash station provided for worker safety is just one type of emergency equipment that should be accessible to all workers.

Under Title I of the ADA, workers with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations. As noted by the U.S. Access Board’s guidance on the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design: “Designing employee work areas to be more accessible at the outset will eliminate or reduce the need for more costly retrofits in providing reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities.”

Below, we’re sharing the technical specifications for creating an accessible eyewash station. (more…)

Fair Housing – What’s Your Safe Harbor?

This blog post was originally published on March 23, 2020. It was updated on April 24, 2022 to provide the latest, most accurate information on HUD-approved safe harbors for FHA compliance.

Cover of the Fair Housing Act Design ManualCompliance with the accessible design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act (FHA), a federal civil rights law, has significantly improved since the early 1990s when the regulations were promulgated. Unfortunately, a quick search of recent news articles will reveal that noncompliance with basic FHA requirements continues to be a problem in newly constructed multifamily projects nationwide. Owners, developers, architects, and others are still cited for noncompliance with the FHA’s seven design and construction requirements even though it has been more than 30 years since those requirements went into effect.

Based on our experience, one of the contributing factors in continued noncompliance is the common misconception that following the accessibility requirements of a building code will result in compliance with the FHA. It is important to note that if the accessibility requirements of one of the HUD-approved safe harbors are not incorporated into the design of a multifamily development, and the project complies only with the accessibility requirements of a building code, the risk of noncompliance exists. (more…)

Understanding Accessibility: 5 Significant Spatial Changes in ICC A117.1-2017

The 2017 edition of the A117.1 Standard for Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities comes with the most significant spatial changes that we have seen in any recent code cycle. As more states and local governments adopt A117.1-2017 as the technical standard of reference under Chapter 11: Accessibility of the International Building Code, builders, developers, architects, and agencies, among others, will be faced with some big changes when it comes to accessibility requirements.

Many of the basic building block clearances that have remained relatively the same since the 1986 edition of the standard have been expanded based on the findings of The Wheeled Mobility Task Group (PDF), a study of mobility device users conducted by The Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDeA) out of the University at Buffalo, SUNY.

What has changed and how will designs be affected? Here are our top 5 spatial changes in A117.1-2017 and the impact those changes could have on building design: (more…)

Understanding Accessibility: Section 504 & Its Impact on Residential Development

Laws and codes governing accessibility ensure that the built environment is designed and constructed to serve its current and future occupants.

The first step in the design process is to determine which disability rights laws and building codes apply to your project. One such law is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. When does Section 504 apply and how do you ensure that your project meets all relevant requirements?

At Steven Winter Associates, our accessibility consultants help our clients comply with every regulation that applies to their project, whether it’s a new construction or a renovation. Below, we pooled our knowledge to answer the most frequently asked questions about Section 504 and how to apply it to residential projects. (more…)

Accessibility Tech Notes: Trash Chute Closet Design

As an amenity provided to building occupants, hoppers—otherwise known as trash chutes—are required to be accessible. Most commonly, hoppers are included in conventional trash rooms and not located in closets like the one depicted in the image below. The hopper/closet design is uncommon, but we do see it in a fair number of projects.

Evaluating the hopper/closet design to ensure that it’s accessible is more complex than one might imagine. Let’s go through how we would conduct an evaluation of the hopper/closet design.

How to Evaluate for Accessibility Compliance

Diagram of the hopper closet design.The image on the left depicts a trash chute closet (circled in red) in a residential building that’s accessed from a common hallway. The hopper is revealed when the conventional swing door is opened.

Step 1: Isolate the swing door

First, we’d think through how the conventional swing door is operated and used. We know that the door must be opened, which triggers requirements for maneuvering clearance on the common side of the door. Ample maneuvering clearance must be provided to support its use by those who might use a wheelchair or other mobility aid. (more…)

Inclusive Design and Building Performance: An Inclusive Approach to Improving the Built Environment

Human beings spend most of their time in or around the built environment. As we live, work, and play, the design of the spaces we occupy can have a profound impact on our wellbeing.

The way that our environments affect our physical and mental health has long been a topic of discussion in the fields of architecture, urban planning, and environmental psychology. Physical barriers to access can result in the exclusion of people with disabilities; lack of indoor air quality or access to natural light can impact cognitive development or lead to future health issues.

From a mental health perspective, studies have shown that most of our reactions to a space are on an emotional, rather than a rational level and emotional reactions can vary among the occupants of a space. [1,2] Some may feel uneasy, while others feel comfortable.

Articulating the characteristics of a space that trigger certain emotions is a challenge but by considering the people for whom a space is intended, designers can create spaces that positively impact quality of life for those who inhabit them.

With this in mind, we at SWA are developing a fresh approach to creating buildings that perform well for the occupants they serve.

(more…)